Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The return of Beard singles club - 7" special!

BMX Bandits
Doorways/Sailor’s Song

BMX Bandits – Doorways/Sailor’s Song (Rev-ola)

Doorways has really got me. It’s the kind of song you rarely hear these days, at least not done right – the adult pop ballad. Sounding like some lost Carole King or Laura Nyro gem, it’s a stunning showcase for new singer Rachel Mackenzie, and quite possibly the finest song of Duglas T Stewart’s career.
Clearly based on real life heartbreak, Stewart’s lyrics ring true, without ever sounding solipsistic. Mackenzie absolutely nails the sentiment, capturing the sense of heartache and loss in Stewart’s lyrics, while retaining her dignity and inner strength. She soars on the chorus, before slowing down on the final line, a catch in her voice as she yearns, “But I thought we had a chance for love, a very special kind of love.” It’s a heartbreaker alright.
Gorgeous and genuinley moving, in a just world this would be a massive hit.
Testament to the glory of the 7” format, as soon as Doorways ends you’ll want to lift up the tone arm and play it again. Make sure you flip it over eventually though, as Sailor’s Song, from forthcoming album My Chain, is lovely breezy soul.
After 20 years of heartache, melody and romance, it’s high time the Bandits were recognised as the classic pop band they are. Treasure this.

More singles club tomorrow folks! xx

Thursday, June 08, 2006

ATP - the inside scoop!

This is a piece of creative non-fiction I did for my creative writing evening class. It's not a standard review of the second weekend of All Tomorrow's Parties - you'll get that in Beard #6 - but rather a series of sketches from different viewpoints. Yes, pretentious sod that I am, I used three narrative voices, one of which is clearly me, the other two being crudely executed charicatures of people I encountered there. It's far from a finished piece and could do with some redrafting I'm sure, but I just thought I'd get it out there as a work in progress. Feel free to tear it to pieces or worship my ass. The former being more likely...

Sketches of Pain: Three Voices for All Tomorrow's Parties

Smart. Fuckin’ smaaaart. It’s 4am, I’m on the bus down to All Tomorrow’s Parties and I’m wasted. All night disco party! For the next four nights. Smart. I’ve not been to ATP before, but I’ve heard all the stories: best music festival ever, sound people, chalets instead of tents, proper toilets, loads of mad stuff going on. It’s gonnae be a riot, man.
I cannae wait for the Shins on Sunday. Ye know that film where Princess Leah’s maw gies the guy the headphones and is like, “This band will change your life”? Well, that’s the Shins she’s playing. Fuckin’ smart.
People are pretty quiet on this bus. I thought it would be pure mental. I suppose people are saving themselves up for when they get there. The most excitement was some guy making a b-line straight to the bog as soon as we hit the road. “Ye have a good shite?” I ask when he comes out. Guy looks a bit embarrassed and toddles off back to his seat. Behind me there’s a guy coughing and sneezing. Doesn’t sound too healthy. Still, nothing a bottle of vodka cannae fix. Smaaart.


So there we were in George Square at 3am, waiting for the bus we’d booked to Camber Sands. People tended to stick to their own groups, acknowledging the others but not really interacting. Come on, we’re all going to All Tomorrow’s Parties, let’s rock! Alas, the closest we get to the ice being broken was when some French revellers joined in the kick around a few of the guys were having. The bus appeared at 3.30. Just as well, as I was suffering from the runs and needed to pay a visit pronto. “Have a good shite?” somebody asks when I emerge. “Smaart” he drawls. Aye, whatever. Fortunately I track down some Immodium at a service station. Best £3.99 I’ve ever spent. Smart indeed.
I manage to sleep on and off, and spend much of the morning reading the Wire, marvelling at the descriptions of John Fahey’s cosmic American guitar picking and tutting at the writer of the Sonic Youth feature’s sniffy attitude towards the band’s relatively poppy new album.
By lunchtime I’m wondering when we’ll get there, as the coach stops and starts along past endless fields of bright yellow rape. We seem to spend an age crawling towards a massive bridge over the Thames estuary, an industrial vista of chimneys and freight ships. With that obstacle passed it’s a smoother run through quaint English villages, all village greens and caravan showrooms. Catching the first band at 2.30pm is a lost cause now, but we might just make it in time for the excellent Herman Dune. Eventually we see signs for Hastings. Well, at least we’re heading in roughly the right direction. Unfortunately the driver thinks Hastings is our final destination and spends a good twenty minutes getting lost around the town before being informed that in fact, we’re going to Rye, further along the coast. No Herman Dune for me then.
It’s nearly 4pm when we arrive at Pontins, the incongruous yet perfect setting for our weekend of rock n roll mayhem. Juggling my luggage I meet up with my chalet mates and wait in the wind while one of our party gets our wristbands and keys. I’m sharing with some affable Americans, who’ve brought along plenty of fruit. My offering is some coffee and a French press. How dreadfully bourgeois! It’s most necessary though. Now, without further ado, let the music commence.


“Puny weaklings, bow before the majesty of rock n roll!” I scan the crowd to see what sort of reaction I’m getting. Some of those guys are laughing, some of them I can tell fucking hate me, and the rest just carry on talking to their friends. Well, that’s not what I want – I need reaction.
“Alright motherfuckers, wanna see me dance?”
Not that they get a choice in the matter. It might be hot in this cape under these stage lights, but I’m gonna bust some moves whether it’s the last thing I do. I flex my limbs and shake my ass to some imaginary hot beat. Some dude in the front row sticks out his hand and I high five him.
Mission accomplished, I make my exit, wishing the band, who are waiting in the wings, a great show. Man, this festival is fun. Goofy, but fun. And with my tinsel party sticks in hand I disappear into the crowd.


The nicest thing about a having a photo pass is getting to see the bands right up close. The trick is to get there early, at least five minutes before the band come on, and find a good spot in the photo pit. You sit in the trench, fiddling with your equipment, as bodies writhe with excitement behind the barrier. Every few seconds other photographers appear, squeezing past you to get a good spot in the corner. Then on walk the band and it’s over the top, aiming your lens at the musicians, guitars and shaggy hair in your sights. Whether my photos come out well almost doesn’t matter when confronted with a band as thrilling as the Boredoms. It’s exciting just to be able to get so close. A few feet away dreadlocked uber-Bore Eye stands chanting in Japanese, his body twitching with intent. One arm swoops and the electronic gizmo he’s clutching makes an arc of light and whoosh of glitchy noise. He’s soon joined by three drummers, who form a circle round his console of noise making machines. Far from being a leaden, martial din, the music they make is positively elevating, all tribal polyrhythm, electronic star bursts and ecstatic vocals.
I don’t stay down the front too long - I want to experience this as a fan. I work my way through the crowd, find a good spot, shut my eyes and trance out to the Boredom’s psychedelic splendour.
Later that day, downstairs at the smaller stage, I’m equally transfixed, albeit in a totally different manner, by Joanna Newsom’s exquisite art-folk. Nobody comes to throw us out of the pit after three songs, so I stay put, all the better to hear her music against the distant chatter of the morons at the back of the room. She’s dwarfed by her Celtic harp, but is in total control of its daunting row of strings and clunky pedals. Watching her play is fascinating. Golden melodies and counterpoints tumble from her fingers, recalling African kora music as much as Western folk music. In her keening woman-child voice she sings of meteorites, dirigibles and cockles, peach, plums and pears.
Of course she’s beautiful, a wide-eyed medieval princess in her velvet dress, and when I briefly pass her in the wings after the set, I feel like a smitten schoolboy. “That was an amazing set,” I tell her. “Thankyou!” she beams. Sigh.


Let me tell you why I’m here. There’s a film being made about this festival and I’ve been thrown in to add a little craziness. I got my aviator shades, my cape and my shorts, and a whole lotta party attitude. Hype man, performance artist, certified nutjob, call me what you will, but I’ve got an important job to do. I told y’all about my dancing, that’s been fun, but they’ve given me other things to do, like wander around talking to people. Being a holiday camp, there’s an amusement arcade, which is full of drunken indie kids playing the dance machine or gambling their pennies away. A good place to hang out.
I see a group of guys hanging around wondering what game to play next, so I step up to them, my trusty cameraman and sound operator in tow.
“What’s up!”
“Hey, it’s you. That guy!” this dude in glasses says in some fruity British accent.
“You know who I am? I’m John Lennon. Maybe you’ve heard of my band, The Beatles.”
“No, can’t say I’ve heard of them. What kind of music do you do?”
Smart ass eh? Nah, the guy’s being good natured. He’s having a laugh, as you Limey’s say. I pause for dramatic effect.
“Yeah, you should check us out man. So, where you guys from in England?”
“We’re not English, we’re Scottish,” another one of them says.
“Alright. Then fuck the English!”
Alright, that’s some Braveheart shit right there! I wish my Scottish friends a good day and move on to my next victim. Bringing the good time vibes, that’s me.


Another great thing about ATP is that there’s far more to it than watching bands. The opportunities for fun are virtually endless. You can go to the famous Camber Sands, although that’s not much fun when it’s windy and wet, sit in your chalet and watch the bizarre cavalcade of cult movies and TV shows the curators have chosen (the highlight being R Kelly’s ludicrous and quite astonishing “r ‘n b soap opera” Trapped In The Closet) or stay up until 6am dancing in the pub. And of course, there are the impromptu jam sessions featuring pots and pans and wooden spoons.
Our own event is a Zaireeka party. Zaireeka, for the uninitiated, is an album by the Flaming Lips designed to be played on four stereos. Naturally, this can be quite difficult to arrange, so you might as well make the most of the few occasions you can hear it properly and turn the playback into a big party. Four stereos are procured, the word is passed around, and when the time arrives, at least 20 people are gathered in the chalet and the balcony outside.
Our host has done this before, so he instructs each of us CD operators and we’re off. At the count of three we all hit play and wait for the music to fill the room in all its octophonic glory. First out of the traps is an edgy, syncopated bassline, followed by a drift of otherworldly voices, floating around the room like paint in a jar of water. Thunderous drums cut through, cantering to the finish line. This is awesome.
We repeat the process for each song, finding ourselves constantly delighted and unsettled by the invention, wit and audacity of it all. One song ends with a swarm of bees buzzing across the speakers, another with a chorus of barking dogs. And through it all of you’ve got the existential optimism of singer Wayne Coyne, urging us to embrace life. It’s a fitting end to the festival.


Aw man, don’t ask me to remember too much. This weekend has been a blur of booze, drugs, music, girls and more booze. Smaaart. I’m totally fuckin’ wasted and just want to get home. Hurry up bus. I cue up Malcolm Middleton on my IPod and sit back. “You’ll never amount tae nothin’, and a’ yer songs are shite…” I love this tune man, fuckin’ brutal. People are probably thinking, who’s this daft cunt singing along to his IPod? Like I give a fuck.
Time passes. Time to put on a video. I’ve got Trainspotting and Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. I go up to the driver and he points to the video. Smaart.
Back in my seat and the film starts up. Dum dum dum dum dum dum. Fuckin’ ‚Lust For Life’ man, smart. Renton running down the street. Quality.
A few minutes in though and the picture starts to go. Fuck’s sake! Nevermind, it’s pretty funny with just the sound on anyway. It’s amazing how well you can remember all the bits. The chat about Sean Connery, Renton trying to pull Dianne. Smart.
People get a bit fed up with it though, so we try the other video. Nae luck again. No worries, I’ve got a tape I can put on. The Brakes. All night disco party!
I’m woken up by that speccy guy handing me back my tape. Mutiny in the ranks! He goes and puts on this mix tape he’s made. Starts off with some disco shite, then we get some alright rock ‘n roll stuff, then it’s all weird shit, kinda funky weird shit though. There’s this folky song with some woman wailing away that seems to go on forever. Fuckin’ shite! Who would want to listen to this? It’s pure top yourself music. There’s some old soul song after that, but then it gets turned off and somebody else’s tape put on. Smart.
A few hours later we’re back in Glasgow. Well, that was some weekend. Shins were amazing man. I’m fuckin’ dead, but it’s all good. Smart, fuckin’ smaaart.